Introducing Epiphanies

Chappell, Sophie Grace (2019). Introducing Epiphanies. Zeitschrift für Ethik und Moralphilosophie, 2(1) pp. 95–121.



I propose a programme of research in ethical philosophy, into the peak-experiences or wow-moments that I, following James Joyce and others, call epiphanies. As a first pass, I characterize an epiphany as an (1) overwhelming (2) existentially significant manifestation of (3) value, (4) often sudden and surprising, (5) which feels like it “comes from outside” – it is something given, relative to which I am a passive perceiver – which (6) teaches us something new, which (7) “takes us out of ourselves”, and which (8) demands a response. Often the correct response is love, often it is pity, or again creativity. It might also be anger or reverence or awe or a hunger to put things right – a hunger for justice; or many other things. It may be something that leads directly to action, but it may also be something that prompts contemplation; or other responses again. Since epiphanies are what I call a focal-case category, not all of the conditions listed above have to be fulfilled by all instances of epiphanies. In order to allow the reader to get a better grip on which range of phenomena may count as an epiphany, I examine in some detail several examples from literature, in particular from works by Murdoch, Hopkins, Wordsworth, C.S. Lewis, and by James Joyce.

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